Science fiction. It’s a genre that is loved by many, but largely misunderstood. The question “Can you recommend a good science fiction book?” has struck fear into the heart of many a librarian. This year at the Readers’ Advisory Committee’s annual RA in a Day conference, we decided to tackle this tough genre once and for all.
RA in a Day is an annual one-day conference that brings some of the best readers’ advisory advocates together to share their knowledge and expertise on meeting the needs of adult readers.
Lorna Toolis, head of the Merril Collection of Science Fiction, Speculation and Fantasy at Toronto Public Library, was our first speaker of the day. Lorna spoke about the history of the Merril Collection. This collection began in 1970 with a donation of 5,000 items from science fiction author Judith Merril and has grown to include over 72,000 items. Lorna gave a great overview of the various subgenres that fall under the science fiction umbrella, including space opera, steampunk and space westerns, just to name a few!
A panel discussion followed about the past, present and future of the science fiction genre. Chris Szego, manager of Bakka-Phoenix Books (a well-known science fiction speciality bookstore in Toronto) and Julie Czerneda, a science fiction author with fourteen novels in print, were our panelists. Chris and Julie shared great insights about current trends in sci-fi, how to market the genre, and how science fiction has evolved over the years (hint: Harry Potter changed everything!) They also shared some great reading suggestions for a variety of audiences.
Madeline Ashby was our lunchtime speaker. Madeline is an accomplished writer, having written numerous short stories, essays, and books. Her 2016 book Company Town, a futuristic murder-mystery thriller, was shortlisted for Canada Reads 2017 and was championed by Measha Brueggergosman. By day, Madeline has the coolest-sounding job ever: she is a futurist, working with companies and businesses to plan for future potential scenarios. Madeline spoke to the group about her own experiences as a science fiction writer, how her interest in forecasting helps her imagine dystopic, futuristic worlds, and how the science fiction community has supported and inspired her. Madeline also shared her experience as a participant in Canada Reads, and how it feels to be an American living in Canada.
Sam Maggs was the keynote speaker at the end of our sci-fi day. Sam is a self-described “geek girl,” assistant writer of video games at Bioware, and author of two books, The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy and Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors and Trailblazers Who Changed History. Sam read two excerpts from Wonder Women, inspirational stories about little known women who did great things. She shone the spotlight on:
- Anandibai Joshi, one of the first Indian female physicians
- Sarah Emma Edmonds, a Canadian female spy for the Union army.
To find out more, read Sam’s book. Sam also shared her experiences being a woman in the world of video games, and gave a swath of great recommendations for everything from books to video games.
Last but certainly not least, we put together our Best Bets in science fiction and speculative fiction and shared them with the group–check it out.
Photo credit: Jennifer Green
Kristen Caschera is the Information Services Librarian at London Public Library. She sits on the OPLA Readers’ Advisory Committee and is a member of the LoanStars steering committee. She can be reached at kristen.caschera @lpl.ca.